Puiia v. Meadwestvaco
May 20, 2020
CategoriesPermanent Impairment Res Judicata
Permanent Injury Combined injuries Res Judicata Multiple Injuries Bailey Oleson
Summary from the Troubh Heisler Attorneys
Puiia suffered separate respiratory injuries in 2001 and 2004, and an orthopedic injury to her back and neck in 2005. In 2009 the employer filed petitions to determine permanent impairment for all 3 injuries. In a 2010 consent decree the Board approved an agreement of the parties that the PI rating for the combined effects of all three injuries was 19%. There was no PI determination for any of the individual injuries.
In the current litigation, NewPage again filed petitions to determine permanent impairment due to the 2001 and 2004 respiratory injuries, but not the 2005 orthopedic injury. NewPage requested permanent impairment ratings for each of the two respiratory injuries, arguing that individual PI ratings had not been determined in the previous litigation. Judge Elwin denied the petitions, ruling that the 2010 consent decree establishing a combined PI rating for the 2001, 2004, and 2005 injuries precluded separate determinations for the individual injuries under the doctrine of res judicata. NewPage appealed.
The Appellate Division ruled that the Law Court's recent Bailey decision, which held that a permanent impairment finding may not be changed in subsequent litigation, barred NewPage's petitions in this case. Even if Bailey did not control, the Appellate Division ruled that res judicata would still bar NewPage's petitions. Even though the factual issue of the permanent impairment rating for each individual injury was not decided in the 2010 consent decree, the medical evidence included impairment ratings for the individual injuries, and individual ratings could have been established, even though they were not. The panel distinguished the Appellate Division's Oleson decision, which had held that res judicata did not bar the determination of a claim that could have been raised in a prior proceeding, but was not.
This decision helps to clarify that in workers' compensation proceedings, the unifying principle determining whether res judicata applies is that it depends on whether it helps the employer or the employee.